Photography is an incredible hobby, but it can also be draining, difficult, and – at times – a real slog. If you’re feeling burnt out, you may need to take a break, or you might just require a bit of extra inspiration.
In this article, I share my top five favorite methods to gain photographic inspiration when you’re in a creative rut. Not every approach will work for every photographer, but I encourage you to read through the list and try a few techniques that appeal to you. By the time you’re done, with a little luck, you’ll be excited to head out with your camera and take photos once again.
Let’s get started!
1. Draw up a plan for your success
As with any other professional endeavor, documenting your photography goals is a great idea. In fact, just voicing and acknowledging what is in your head is the first step toward achieving success!
So think about what you want to do photographically, and draw up a list. If you’re just starting out, limit yourself to a couple of reasonable goals (though if you’re a more experienced photographer, feel free to push yourself here – really think about what you want to achieve and the kind of photos you’d like to take over the next year or two).
Maybe you want to get comfortable shooting in Manual mode, or perhaps you want to understand how to successfully use off-camera flash. Maybe you want to get better at composition, or perhaps you want to track moving subjects effectively.
But don’t just make a list and call it a day; also spend some time determining how you’ll achieve your goals. Will you read dPS articles? Check out books on photography from the library? Take several workshops? Watch some online courses? Spend an hour each day practicing with your camera?
No matter the goal, it’s easier to achieve when you have an actionable plan to help you get there. And if you want to boost your chances of following through, take this a step further by actually writing down the steps needed to achieve the results you’re after!
2. Work on personal projects
While it’s great to be busy and earn a living doing what you love, it can also start to drain your creative spirit. So if you’re a professional shooter, don’t just work on your money-making projects; give yourself permission to take on a passion project (i.e., a personal project) or two.
See this project as a way for you to fall back in love with photography without any pressure or expectations. For instance, you might:
- Photograph sunrises
- Create a portfolio of abstract nature scenes
- Capture your local sports team
- Document your favorite forest
Note that your personal project can last for a few weeks, or it can take years. Either is fine, but do make sure the topic is near and dear to your heart; otherwise, you may find yourself getting very bored very quickly, which is the opposite of what you want.
Also, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to try out this strategy for photographic inspiration. Even if you’re a hobbyist, pursuing a dedicated project can be a great way to regain your motivation.
One more thing: Once you pick a project, make sure you give it the time it deserves (even if you’re busy with other work). If you put in real effort, you’re more likely to get real rewards!
3. Go shoot without an agenda
Working with a purpose isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you have certain types of images in mind, it’s easy to develop expectations, and these can lead to pressure, stress, and frustration.
That’s why I highly recommend spending some time photographing without an agenda. Just pick up a camera – whether it’s a DSLR, mirrorless model, or even your smartphone – and photograph anything. It can be the interior of your home, your backyard, your neighborhood, or the nearest city. Just pick something convenient and do some shooting.
You don’t even need to put much thought into it. Sometimes, it’s just the act of pressing the shutter that can provide the right amount of stress release. And if it helps, feel free to delete the images at the end. The whole point is to just enjoy the act of photography without the need to create a perfect frame.
4. Do something creative (that’s not photography)
Photographic inspiration can be found in a variety of ways – and sometimes, the best inspiration comes from non-photographic activities. That’s why I encourage you to try something that’s creative, but that’s not artistic.
For instance, you might cook a meal from scratch, do some knitting, enjoy gardening in your backyard, write a story, do some journaling, or even just go for a walk outside and study the different leaf patterns you see.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working on an alternative artistic pursuit, such as painting or drawing (and this can be an effective way to gain new inspiration, too). But if you’re feeling burnt out, distancing yourself from all things artistic might be a good idea.
Whatever you choose, let it flow without structure or planning. Use it as a means to release the creative energy building up inside. Be kind to yourself, and just give yourself some time to take a break from photography; the inspiration will return in time.
5. Complete a self-challenge
This approach is similar to the personal project technique I shared above, except it’s a lot more constrained. The idea is to set yourself specific rules, then use them to direct your shooting. You can always invent your own self-challenge, though here are a few popular ones:
- Take a self-portrait every day
- Capture a set of photos that convey the essence of each week (for a whole year)
- Photograph a single color for a week
- Photograph your daily meals
- Take one shot a day for a month
- Capture every sunrise and sunset for a month
Whatever self-challenge you choose, document and work on it. Perhaps even join or start a group online where others can participate with you. Working with other photographers can motivate you further and help keep the inspiration alive!
One tip: If you start a self-challenge and you struggle from the get-go, that might be a sign you should try something else. There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself, but because challenges are nearly always tough to complete, it’s important that you genuinely like what you’re doing.
Ways to find photography inspiration: final words
If you’re feeling uninspired, dejected, or just plain burnt out, I hope this article has been helpful. With a few simple techniques and a conscious effort to change your mindset, you can come back more inspired and more motivated than ever, ready to explore all these wonderful facets of an art form that has so many ardent fans all over the world!
So pick one or more of the methods for inspiration I’ve shared. Then really commit to it. If you do a self-challenge, give it your all. If you take on a project, block out time to complete it. And if you take a break from photography and do something else creative, put real effort into that, too!
Now over to you:
How do you plan to feel motivated again? Do you have any techniques for gaining inspiration that I didn’t cover in this article? Share your thoughts in the comments below!